Time for an ‘inclusive’ Asia-Pacific: Youth voice is heard at UN regional summit
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Time for an ‘inclusive’ Asia-Pacific: Youth voice is heard at UN regional summit

IT’S time for “an inclusive Asia Pacific where young people have all the needed capacities and opportunities to become resilient and face emerging challenges,” was the call made by young activists from across Asia-Pacific at the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) on Thursday.

For years the UN has been touting the need to place young people at the centre of the sustainable development agenda. As the secretary-general himself has said, they are the first generation that could end poverty, and the last generation that can put an end to climate change. Their involvement is essential.

This week we saw the UN’s pledge put into action with young activists from across the region present their recommendations to the United Nation’s fifth APFSD in Bangkok. Among those in attendance were member states, UN agencies, multilateral organisations and Civil Society Organisations.

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Fifth Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development, Bangkok, Thailand. March 29, 2018. Source: UNESCAP – Facebook

They came with a call for change and concrete recommendations of how to make it happen. These include calls for governments to prioritise investments in low-carbon renewable, efficient and clean energy infrastructure; ensure the compliance of the private sector with ethical, environmental and human rights guidelines; perform environmental and social impact assessments when designing and implementing energy projects; institutionalise active youth engagement, especially marginalised youth, at all levels of urban decision making; and ensure the implementation of minimum initial service package (MISP) to effectively respond to reproductive health needs at the onset of humanitarian crises.

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These are just a handful of the recommendations put forward in the Asia-Pacific youth statement prepared at the two-day youth forum preceding the APFSD.

Organised by Malaysia based NGO, the Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), in partnership with YouthLEAD, and the Right Here Right Now partnership, the brainstorming and discussion session aimed at reviewing key Sustainable Development Goals that directly affect young people in the region.

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Preparatory Youth Forum for the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development, Bangkok, Thailand. March 23, 2018. Source: Writer’s Own

Their input was informed by expertise from a whole range of backgrounds. Attendees included activists who have dedicated their efforts to involving young people in the many pressing issues affecting their generation, such as poverty, hunger, lack of health, education, water and sanitation, gender equality and violation of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).

The statement was delivered to the room of foreign dignitaries by Reshma Thapa from Restless Development, an NGO working to make sure young people have a voice.

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But Thapa was just one of the 65 activists in attendance at the youth forum. Collectively they understand the power of youth. Half the world is under 30 and nine in ten of these young people live in developing countries; this is the largest youth population there has ever been. As Restless Development puts it: “We are in an era of peak youth.”

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Reshma Thapa from Restless Development, delivering the Asia-Pacific youth statement to the APFSD, Bangkok, Thailand. March 29, 2018. Source: ARROW

The largest number of young people globally live in Asia and the Pacific. According to UNESCAP, children and youth comprise 24 percent and 16 percent of the population respectively. Their involvement in current day decision making is essential if success is to be ensured. A sentiment very much recognised by those at the youth forum.

“Everyone says the youth are the future, but the future is uncertain,” says Bindu Bhandari from environmental intergovernmental organisation International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

“I don’t advocate for the future, I advocate for now. The youth are the present.”